Jays Miscellanea looks back at a bunch of people you may or may not recall who played for the Toronto Blue Jays. Let’s remember some guys!


There have been so many great Willies throughout baseball history. Hall of Famers Mays, McCovey, and Stargell, and Hall of Very Gooders Davis, Randolph, and McGee. Perhaps leading the pack of Hall of Very Good Willies is longtime Detroit Tigers powerhouse Willie Horton.


An early example of a baseball star with a “Kirby Puckett body,” Michigan’s own Willie Horton spent 15 seasons with the Tigers, slugging his way into the hearts of a generation of loyal Detroit rooters. Such was his impact on the club that he is the only non-Hall of Famer to have his number retired by the Tigers and to have a statue in his likeness erected outside of Comerica Park. His ties to Detroit and his imprint on the DNA of the Tigers franchise make it easy to forget that he bounced around a bit towards the end of his career, playing for Texas, Cleveland, Oakland, Seattle, and our very own Toronto Blue Jays.


Having broken in to the league in 1963 and playing his best year in 1968, helping to lead the Tigers to a stunning World Series victory over Bob Gibson and the Cardinals in 7 games, I tend to think of Willie Horton as a link to an earlier generation of baseball. His feels like a generation still largely in black and white, playing for the newspaper box score instead of the TV cameras, close enough to the “aw shucks, gee willickers” world of post-war baseball. I mean, his first homerun came off of Robin Roberts, he played under Charlie Dressen, and he was longtime teammates with Al Kaline. It feels impossible to imagine him playing in the powder blue pull-over pyjamas of the Blue Jays and taking batting practice with Willie Upshaw. But there he was. In a season that also took him to Cleveland and Oakland, Horton eventually landed in Canada via a trade with the Athletics alongside Phil Huffman in exchange for designated hitter Rico Carty.


During his brief time in Toronto, Horton logged 127 plate appearances over 33 games as a designated hitter, slashing just .205/.228/.328 for an OPS+ of 55. Not a very impressive third of a season with the Jays, though he signed as a free agent with Seattle for the 1979 season and was resurgent. He was named the American League Comeback Player of the Year, appearing in all 162 games for the Mariners slashing .279/.326/.458 with 29 homers for a 108 OPS+, and garnering MVP votes. He followed that with one more, unfortunately disappointing, year in Seattle and hung it up for good.


One fun bit of Willie Horton miscellanea: after the 1980 season, and before deciding to retire after a few tries in the minors with Texas and Pittsburgh, he was part of a trade involving Rick Honeycutt, Richie Zisk, and one Mario Mendoza, the progenitor of the notorious “Mendoza Line.” That must have been Horton’s cue to finally hang it up.


One of the game’s most prolific sluggers, Horton compiled 325 career homeruns and a 120 career OPS+, good for a respectable 26.4 fWAR. For one late summer in 1978, in the twilight of Willie Horton’s career, this stalwart Tigers icon, an indelible link to an earlier baseball era, wore the Blue Jay on his powder blue pullover jersey, and called Toronto home.